Preparing for war The extremist history of white Christian nationalism--and what comes next

Bradley B. Onishi

Book - 2023

The insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, was not a blip or an aberration. It was the logical outcome of years of a White evangelical subculture's preparation for war. Religion scholar and former insider Bradley Onishi maps the origins of White Christian nationalism and traces its offshoots in Preparing for War. Combining his own experiences in the youth groups and prayer meetings of the 1990s with an immersive look at the steady blending of White grievance politics with evangelicalism, Onishi crafts an engrossing account of the years-long campaign of White Christian nationalism that led to January 6. How did the rise of what Onishi calls the New Religious Right, between 1960 and 2015, give birth to violent White Christian... nationalism during the Trump presidency and beyond? What propelled some of the most conservative religious communities in the country--communities of which Onishi was once a part--to ignite a cold civil war? Through chapters on White supremacy and segregationist theologies, conspiracy theories, the Christian-school movement, purity culture, and the right-wing media ecosystem, Onishi pulls back the curtain on a subculture that birthed a movement and has taken a dangerous turn. In taut and unsparing prose, Onishi traces the migration of many White Christians to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in what is known as the American Redoubt. Learning the troubling history of the New Religious Right and the longings and logic of White Christian nationalism is deeply alarming. It is also critical for preserving the shape of our democracy for years to come.

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Minneapolis : Broadleaf Books [2023]
Main Author
Bradley B. Onishi (author)
Physical Description
237 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 225-237).
  • Before and after
  • Would I have been there?
  • Extremism is a virtue
  • The new South rises
  • Segregation is a religious right
  • The cross and the flag
  • The pure American body
  • Killing democracy to save the nation
  • Real delusions
  • Insurrection
  • MAGA myths
  • Right flight
  • Those with eyes to see.
Review by Booklist Review

This persuasive account documents the rise of White Christian nationalism and warns of the very real threat it poses to American democracy. Writer, podcaster, and scholar Onishi offers firsthand insights. He converted to Evangelical Christianity in his early teens; eleven years later, he left the church and his ministry for two decades in academia. Galvanized by the January 6th Capitol riots, Onishi reports meticulously on the increasing influence of the religious right from the 1960s to today, charting the impact of various social, political, and religious platforms. He lays out the basics of White Christian theology, explaining stances on nationalism, patriotism, church and government integration, and purity (both racial and physical). He calls out major influencers, from Christian megachurch pastors to members of QAnon, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and election-denying MAGA enthusiasts. Onishi tries to end on a positive note, citing the increased number of BIPOC and progressive candidates vying for public office. Despite this, his warning comes through loud and clear: the Christian right is ready and is preparing for all-out war.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The January 6 Capitol riot should make evangelical Christians take a hard look in the mirror, according to this anguished history of the movement's entanglement with political extremism. University of San Francisco religion scholar Onishi (The Birth of the World), who left evangelicalism after studying philosophy and theology at Oxford University, traces the roots of the problem to the founding of the John Birch Society in 1958 and details how vehement opposition to abortion, the "gay agenda," the women's rights movement, and other social justice movements--driven by belief that "the Bible is the errorless Word of God"--helped push that organization and others into "the dangerous territory of conspiracy theories." Conservative politicians including Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan leveraged evangelicals' religious fervor into electoral power, paving the way for white Christian nationalism to become "an integrating force for Trump's coup attempt." Onishi provides plenty of evidence that "Christian extremists" have long been willing to "sacrifice the republic in order to save the America they wanted--a nation where White, straight Christians maintain power," but his assertion that January 6 was the next "logical step" for the movement underplays many other factors in that event. Still, this is a rigorous and earnest grappling with the intersection between religion and politics. (Jan.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A former White Christian nationalist destroys "the myth of the White Christian nation," which "provided the basis for our polarized public square…and the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries." As a teenager in the mid-1990s, Onishi, a religion scholar and host of the Straight White American Jesus podcast, became deeply involved in a White evangelical church in Orange County, California. As a convert and then minister, he was entrenched in what he calls the foundational traits of White Christian nationalism, which he recognized in the rhetoric of the Jan. 6, 2021, rioters: "the myth of the Christian nation, nostalgia for past glory, and an apocalyptic view of the nation's future." In a pertinent, accessible combination of historical survey and memoir, Onishi looks at specific court cases that helped galvanize the White nationalist movement in the 1960s in reaction to the rise of the civil rights and feminist movements, especially Engel v. Vitale (1962), which "concerned the constitutionality of school prayer in public school settings where students were required to participate"; and Abingdon v. Schemp (1963), which "considered the matter of required Bible reading in schools." Both were denounced by evangelicals as the moment "God was taken out of public schools." Along with other forces such as desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, these cases helped propel Barry Goldwater's hard-right candidacy. Onishi shows how the movement gained political might thanks to Paul Weyrich, "one of Goldwater's foot soldiers," and how the religious right combined with the GOP to frame the argument as an attack on family values and religious freedom. The election of Ronald Reagan and defeat of Jimmy Carter, "the wrong kind of Christian," helped perpetuate the warlike, conspiratorial language of the movement, to which Donald Trump neatly subscribed a few decades later. Onishi's systematic, well-argued narrative reveals the "nostalgia politics" behind the shrinking privilege of White nationalists. A cleareyed, compelling study of the road to Jan. 6 and the possible future of the politics-versus-religion battle in the U.S. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.